Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:40 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative 7:40 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, reading chapter 6 of the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism, which deals with the universities, was a revelation—or, rather, a horrid wake-up call, which elicited in me a projection of trends into a situation similar to that which pertained on the mainland of Europe in 1933. Or is it worse? Were universities in the forefront then?

Tolerance of opinions and views has always been the mark of a civilised society, and all of us will be mindful of the statement attributed to Voltaire:

"I disapprove of what you say. but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

In 1871, the mission statement of Newnham College, Cambridge, listed three objectives for the college—yes, they had mission statements in those days. The first was free expression and opinion, the second was education and the third was fairness. It stated:

"No member of this college may be disadvantaged by opinion".

Where is the long tradition of academic tolerance and encouragement of opinion now?

The Government's response to the report is detailed but the time limits imposed on contributions to this debate allow me to raise just four questions that I wish to ask the Minister. It is important to take note of the complete government response to the whole issue of anti-Semitism and not just that relating to campuses. First, on page 12, paragraph 26, Her Majesty's Government recommend that vice-chancellors set up a working party to make it clear that British universities will take robust action against anti-Semitism on campuses. What progress has been made? Secondly, paragraph 3 at page 4 says that only a minority of police forces have the ability to record anti-Semitic incidents. Will HMG ensure that incidents on campuses are recorded not only by the university authorities, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but also by the police?

In the second paragraph on page 2, it is proposed that, in order to reduce anti-Semitism, schoolchildren should be made aware of the Holocaust. But, for this, the Government are proposing to spend an amount of money which would result in expenditure of 15p per schoolchild, and they suggest that two children per school be sent to see the Holocaust museums in Israel. I suggest that it may be better to have more people going to the Imperial War Museum in London or Beth Shalom in Nottinghamshire. I do not have time to say any more.